Life! Pluperfect

Forgotten Memories – Part IV


THE other day, the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) channel on cable TV showed the MGM film “High Society.” This was the last movie made by Grace Kelly, completed shortly before her marriage in April 1956 to Prince Rainier III of Monaco.

In the cast were Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Celeste Holm, John Lund, and Louis Armstrong who played himself. The film is a musical adaptation of the witty play and movie titled “The Philadelphia Story,” with music and lyrics by Cole Porter.

How do you remember? How was it going to the movies in those days? I have been asked. After the war, some of the first buildings to rise were the movie theaters. There was the stately Vision theater on Colon street.

It had survived the war, and its acoustics remained very good. There was the orchestra section, loge on the mezzanine floor and balcony on an upper floor. It was managed by Mr. John Young.

He was a patient of my uncle Dr. Bartolome Picornell, so he gave him a pass for two. Since the doctor did not go to the movies so often, he handed the pass to his sister Magda. Anyhow, if Dr. Picornell went to the Vision the “taquillera” let him in. She was his patient, too.

Vision showed movies from the Paramount and Universal studios. As children we were allowed to see only one movie a week, on a Sunday afternoon with the whole family. On some special occasion we would go after classes, or after dinner to catch the last full show at 9 p.m.

During intermission ads were projected on the screen, followed by trailers (we called them extras) of films to be shown in the future.

The theaters were located in Colon street, so if one was full and no seats available, one just looked for another movie house, although sometimes we did not mind standing until a seat would become vacant.

The Avenue theater was in Jones Avenue, between Sanciangco street and P. del Rosario. It could also be used for theatrical presentation. When the famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin came to Cebu, he performed at the Avenue. The audience were so stunned that they forgot to applaud, causing Mr. Menuhin to express his distress.

The Oriente theater, belonging to the Avila family, showed mostly films Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which we often saw. In the mezzanine foyer there where huge portraits of the studio’s famous stars. When Mr. Lindong Avila went to Hollywood, he was photographed with some of those stars.

The Majestic theater also was in Colon. It showed films from the 20th Century Fox studio. There we trooped to see Elvis Presley’s first film, “Love Me Tender. “If I recall well the Majestic also showed films from the Columbia Pictures studio.

What I do remember is that as children, we were often brought to see musicals, westerns, and light comedies. The “serious” movies were for the grown-ups, who sometimes complained that they wanted to be entertained rather than be subjected to problems. At least, “un poco de amor,” said our uncle Manolo de la Riva, who relished romantic comedies.

We entered the movie house with a large brown paper bag filled with roasted peanuts in their shells. These were bought by the “ganta” from the women who lined the sidewalk near the theater. Of course we had a “suki” who always gave us some extra.

As we ate the peanuts we dropped the shells on the floor, and during intermission noisily crushed them. There were no chippies at that time, but the theaters had a counter where you could buy an assortment of chocolates and ice-cold soft drinks from a vendo machine.

The movie theaters in Cebu during those times were not air-conditioned. There were strategically located huge electric fans to blow cool air, and also blow the smoke from those who lighted one cigarette after another. When you got home you noticed that your clothes smelled of tobacco.

In the late 1950s, air conditioning was installed in the Cebu movie houses. It would be put off about an hour before the end of the last full show. That’s how we realized how loud it was, as we could discern the dialogue and background music more clearly.

Remember Madrid? Gema Pido asked me. This was a hole in the wall between Oriente theater and the Majestic restaurant. Mildred, the Spanish lady who ran it, was there every day to dispense snacks for the movie goers. She kept the chocolates in the freezer of her refrigerator.

With the years more theaters sprouted in Colon street, like the Eden, Cinema and President. There was also the small Queen mini theater, which showed “special” movies.

As a writer on Art and Culture in the Morning Times during martial law, I was asked to be in the Cebu City Review Committee, and given a special ID card, which allowed me access to any theater.

We were called censors but actually our job was to make sure that indecent scenes cut off by the censors in Manila were not taped back for showing in Cebu. The movies were rated as GP, general patronage; or FA, for adults.

Theater operators were eager to have all the movies rated GP as these were more frequented by more people, naturally. Minors were not allowed in adult movies, and to do so meant fines and a threat of closure.

I remember a new version of Pinocchio, the story of a boy doll come to life, whose nose grew longer with every lie he told. Well, in this new version, it was his penis that grew.

How could we sign the endorsement for general patronage? But it is a fairy tale, for children, said the theater operator. Aside from that it was a terrible movie, no heads nor tails, only a growing penis. The film was never shown in Cebu. Nobody would have enjoyed it either.

TAGS: 1950s, Cebu, Cebu City, forgotten, memories, movie houses, Oriente Theater, theater
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